Doctors Aren't Showing Obese Patients the Love

obeseDoctors don’t respect their obese patients as much as other patients, a new study claims–potentially resulting in less time spent with obese patients, and less information given to them that could improve their health.

The study, which will be published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, was conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Data was collected from 238 patients at 14 urban community medical practices in Baltimore. Patients and physicians completed questionnaires about their visit, their attitudes, and their perceptions of one another upon the completion of the encounter.

On average, the patients for whom physicians expressed low respect had higher BMI than patients for whom they had high respect.   In fact, each 10-unit increase in BMI was associated with a 14 percent higher prevalence of low patient respect. (Science Daily, Oct 22, 2009)

Previous studies have shown that when physicians respect their patients, patients get more information from their doctors, while disrespected patients sometimes avoid health care altogether. 

One upside (to the extent that there is one) is that the study wasn’t able to link lower respect with negative health outcomes.  Doctors may be withholding the love from obese patients, but it’s not necessarily doing them harm — at least not physical harm. 

This isn’t the first study to uncover these results.  A study conducted by researchers at the New York University School of Medicine last July found that 40 percent of doctors express a negative reaction to obese patientsSimilarly, a 2003 study found rampant prejudice among doctors and nurses against obese patients. (WebMD, Sept 26, 2003)

Of course, the attitudes exemplified by the docs and nurses in these studies is no different (perhaps even a little better) than attitudes pervasive in society at large.  We think they should be held to a higher standard, but, quoting Depeche Mode, “people are people.”

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